I say, "Good morning," to my Oireachtas colleagues and our guests in the Visitors Gallery. I thank the joint committee for affording me this opportunity to discuss Ireland's policy on development co-operation. In the first instance, I welcome the committee's initiative to review Ireland's policy on development co-operation. As I am sure those members who visited Malawi and Mozambique earlier this month will have witnessed, this is work of which Irish people can be truly proud as it makes a substantial difference to people's lives.
My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, sends his apologies. He is preparing to take Leaders' Questions in the Dáil Chamber in a few minutes. I am joined by a number of colleagues from the development co-operation division, namely, Mr. Ruairí de Búrca, director general; Ms Nicola Brennan, head of the policy unit; and Ms Nicole McHugh, also from the policy unit. All three of my officials have worked in both the field and headquarters.
The various hearings held by the joint committee have made manifest to all of us that our world is shrinking and growing in complexity. Europe's immediate neighbours in the Middle East and north Africa and even Ukraine are troubled. Four major famines in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northern Nigeria are all the result of the failure of politics. Significant population movements are under way, north and south, and there is instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, which I visited recently, and elsewhere. In the autumn we saw the devastating effects of climate events as hurricanes hit many Caribbean countries hard. Drought is feeding conflict and famine. In the midst of all of these challenges, poverty continues to blight the lives of too many people, not least in Ireland's partner countries in Africa and Asia.
Ireland is not unaffected by events elsewhere. We saw, for example, the risk posed by the Ebola virus. Containing the spread of that awful disease required an investment in health system strengthening in countries of origin. We saw how Irish expertise and dedication, which members may have seen in the recent RTÉ documentary "The Thin Green Line", was important in ensuring that there was a successful response to that crisis. Irish Aid played its part. It must continue to play a role in ensuring that the systems are in place to avoid similar crises in the future. That was why I was pleased that my Department, together with the Department of Health and the World Health Organization, hosted the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Dublin earlier this month. Over 1,000 delegates, including many at ministerial level, from across the world, representing both developing countries and those more advanced, were present. A key element of their discussion was the interconnection between countries, how we can learn from each other and the importance of working together to address problems.
Working together with others to address problems is at the core of Ireland's approach to foreign policy. It is why Ireland is committed to the multilateral system - a rules-based international system that is best placed to lead the response to the global challenges we face. It is a system that has its imperfections just like any other. This is why Ireland strongly supports the UN Secretary General in his reform process. It is also why Ireland has indicated that it is a candidate for a UN Security Council seat for 2021-2022. Success in that election would allow Ireland to advocate for the core values of our foreign policy - peace and security, justice, equality and sustainability - at this important forum, with an emphasis on the development dimension in our approach to matters taken under consideration by the Security Council. Our role at the UN in brokering the sustainable development goals, SDGs, is a very real and tangible demonstration of how Ireland makes a difference at the multilateral level. The targets set by the SDGs - also known as Agenda 2030 - are ambitious and set a context for the future work of Irish Aid and Ireland's wider development assistance. Ireland will take on various leadership positions within the UN family over the coming period, such as chairing the lead UN humanitarian donor group, chairing the Commission on the Status of Women and our membership of boards of UNICEF and the World Food Programme. All these positions provide real opportunities to positively influence the international development agenda.
Ireland's membership of the European Union allows us to work closely with other member states and with the European institutions to ensure the delivery of targeted and effective aid. With like-minded states, Ireland has an influential role in Brussels regarding determining policy priorities and ensuring that global issues are addressed. It involves issues such as emergency response, where on our own we are too small but where working through the EU allows us to make a real difference. Of course, working with others requires some give and take. That is where our influence, knowledge and experience make the difference in ensuring that our voice is not just heard and respected but acted upon. This is the judgment of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee, which, in its most recent review of our development co-operation programme, noted Ireland's global leadership role on our priority issues, in particular hunger and nutrition.
I saw our influence at first hand last month when I visited Tanzania. We have a very respected voice among the donor group - in part as we leverage our EU membership. I saw also how our advocacy is heard by Tanzanian partners, including government. Furthermore, I witnessed the real needs which too many people in Tanzania and elsewhere face. I saw: hundreds of thousands of refugees with insufficient food rations; the logistical challenge of getting water uphill so that increasing numbers can drink and wash; children who may never return home getting schooled, sometimes under a tree because classrooms cannot be built quickly enough; and dedicated medical workers ensuring that care is given to those who need it and working in very difficult conditions which require the creative use of scarce supplies.
These are challenges which Irish Aid, working with others, is helping to address through our long-term development programmes in partner countries, including Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia, and – outside Africa - in Vietnam. I know that the Chairman and some committee members saw these challenges during their recent visit to Malawi and Mozambique. However, although there are significant challenges, thankfully, there is also hope, which I am sure the Chairman and members also witnessed. Real changes are being made in people's lives. Tiny payments, as social security systems are being built up, allow people to start small businesses or keep their kids at school. I saw children grasp the opportunity of education in Tanzania. I saw extraordinary women who are the recipients of this social welfare support starting small businesses in their villages in order to help sustain their families and, indeed, the larger community. We saw more and better teachers, better agricultural techniques, seeds, improved access to markets, the roll-out of health centres and improved capacity of health workers, some of whom have been trained in Ireland. Ultimately, we are seeing small but incremental steps to improve the resilience of the most vulnerable.
I also saw the need to create jobs and build more sustainable economies. For me, this is a very significant part of the challenge for the future, particularly for the African continent. We met people involved in education in Tanzania who told us that 1 million more people enter the workforce every year. Ethiopia, for example, needs to create 2 million jobs per year, every year. This figure represents all the jobs in Ireland every year. Kenya needs to create 1 million jobs per year, every year. These are very significant challenges in terms of an emerging workforce, young people with huge ambitions for themselves, their communities and their country. This will be a very significant challenge in terms of skills development and other issues in the future. However, Ireland is helping address this need. For example, Irish potato seed technology will transform the yield on Kenyan farms. Such farms currently produce an average of seven tonnes of potatoes per hectare in a year compared to 70 tonnes in Ireland. We are already seeing improved storage techniques being used to help farmers sell their potatoes months after harvest and to ensure a proper supply to processors and resellers elsewhere. It is planned that greater yields will allow for investment in value addition and in creating many of those badly needed jobs.
Essential to our work are our partners, particularly the Irish NGOs with which Irish Aid works closely in many parts of the world. I do not wish to single out any particular organisation because all our NGO partners bring real value. Some are household names while others are small but with a singular and very effective focus. Their contribution, often in difficult circumstances, to addressing humanitarian and development need is something important that Irish Aid supports. Notwithstanding the challenging budgetary situation of the past few years, the percentage of Irish overseas development aid to NGOs remained at over 30% of all Irish assistance, which is very high by international standards in comparison with other donors. Looking back, much of the path-finding for Ireland’s relationship with development co-operation, and with Africa in particular, owes much to our missionaries who we continue to support through Misean Cara. Their good work continues to make a positive difference in improving people's lives.
Looking ahead and with the budgetary situation becoming regularised, it is the Government's intention to grow Ireland's overseas development aid. The Taoiseach has reiterated the intention to reach the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income by 2030. Our effective, well-respected, development co-operation programme is an important component of Ireland's global footprint. In growing our programme over the coming years, it will be important to ensure that it continues to be efficient and effective. This committee's current work regarding Irish Aid is important because it will assist us in looking to future directions.
At present, Ireland's development co-operation priorities are as set out in the One World, One Future document published in May 2013. That sets out three goals: reduced hunger and stronger resilience; sustainable development and inclusive economic growth; and better governance, human rights and accountability. As we begin to think about future directions, we have decided to review One World, One Future with the intention of bringing forward a new White Paper on development co-operation in the middle of next year.
In advancing our thinking and ensuring that our development co-operation is fit for purpose for the next decade, it will be important that it remains grounded in who we are. It should reflect us and our history, which includes our particular experiences of famine and migration - something that is still very much alive in our national memory. It should allow us to project our present, which includes our experience within living memory of moving from poverty to relative wealth and from the subsistence agriculture of our grandparents to being one of the world's great food producers. We need to preserve the strengths of our current approach, including our focus on vulnerability, nutrition and humanitarian response as part of our response to the SDGs.
We must make sure that we have the right people with the right skills in place to manage our programme not just prudently but effectively as we work to reduce poverty. I am convinced that to do so is not just in the interest of our partners abroad, but in our own national interest. Let us imagine a world where today's demographic bulge in Africa is a true demographic dividend, where those millions of jobs I mentioned earlier have been created in a context where the sustainable development goals have been realised. That must be our ambition and we can help make that happen.